This election has proved to be the most dramatic race since Richard Nixon won 49 states in spite of the burgeoning Watergate scandal in 1972. Complete outsider Donald Trump versus polished, consummate insider Hillary Clinton has resulted in historic amount of dislike for both candidates, and a level of political divisiveness not seen since, well…ever. It isn’t just the divisiveness itself, however, it’s the reasons for the divisiveness.
The followings that Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders have been able to arouse are nothing short of breathtaking, and show that the majority of people feel disenfranchised by the current political system. The platform that Clinton has been running on is also telling: she has spent more time talking about Trump’s flaws than anything else, and her polling numbers increase every time she does. It is unsurprising then, that she and Trump are neck and neck right now. Regardless of whether you agree with him or not, Trump has galvanised support by speaking to the anger of those feeling left out in the cold. Sanders did exactly the same, albeit from the other side.
Clinton has offered very little except to continually stress that Trump is evil, and she is not. Even her policy talk has fallen fairly flat, because there are far too many people who are fed up with the current state of affairs. What many pundits have failed to address is that the American people are less interested in actual policy than they are in what a candidate stands for. A policy can change or be shelved in a heartbeat; what a candidate stands for is generally something that doesn’t change.
This is Hillary’s biggest weakness, because anyone with a pulse sees that what the Clintons stand for is big business, continued conflict abroad and basically, more of the status quo—exactly what so many people are against. It is little wonder then that Clinton hasn’t been able to draw on Sanders’ support base since he dropped out of the running. His supporters aren’t interested in Hillary merely because she’s been billed as the lesser of two evils—they want action, not platitudes. Bernie gave them hope because what he stood for was what they stand for. They see Hillary as merely standing against Trump, and that’s not a compelling reason for anyone to cast a vote.
With a candidate as polarizing and abrasive as Trump, a large percentage of those who vote for him won’t let their preferences be known, for fear of the response.
It’s amusing that so many of the pro-Hillary crowd, including President Obama, are asking the question “are you treating her differently because she’s a woman?” as though it is entrenched misogyny and sexism that is holding back her polling numbers. On the contrary, I’d hypothesize that it’s actually helping her numbers. The chance of a woman in the White House has galvanized many across the country into voting for her—not to mention the fact that Trump’s rather vile misogyny plays right into her hands. If you hate Trump and his misogyny, who better to vote for than the female candidate?
Unfortunately for Clinton, I don’t think this is going to save her. She’s the Mitt Romney of 2016: bland, vanilla, white bread. Against Trump and Sanders, she also comes across as insincere because she doesn’t have any compelling stances or arguments. Whether that’s actually true is irrelevant, because in an election, perception is everything. Come November 8, I think Trump will win, and he might even win more easily than expected. Why? I think he may very well have siphoned off some of Bernie’s supporters since he dropped out of the race. There is also the fact that with a candidate as polarizing and abrasive as Trump, a larger percentage of those who vote for him will not let their preferences be known to anybody for fear of the response.
This is what happens when you have candidates with strong views and a strong message: while they do have large, extremely vocal followers, they also have an army of silent support that won’t show itself until Election Day.
The big question after the election is, what’s next? If Trump wins, it’s huge for the anti-establishment. The Republicans have already shown they are willing to block and frustrate a sitting president they don’t like—what’s going to happen if they do the same with their own candidate? Are they going to actually work with Trump? Or will Trump pull off a great magic trick and show himself to be a credible, run-of-the-mill politician once the dust settles?
If Clinton wins, however, it’s more of the same for everybody. I can see both sides of the aisle breathing a huge sigh of relief and closing ranks to ensure that the anti-establishment in the form of Trump and Sanders never comes so close to winning. Republicans have already learned their lesson. In this election they were like the mob in The Dark Knight who thought things were bad enough with Batman to sell their souls to the devil in the form of Heath Ledger’s Joker, who then initially got them what they wanted, but proceeded to burn their house down as well. They won’t make that mistake again.
One thing is clear—the establishment aren’t interested in anyone except for themselves leading the country, and they’ll fight to ensure they aren’t threatened in such a way again.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.
Peter Ross deconstructs the psychology and philosophy of the business world, careers and everyday life. You can follow him on Twitter @prometheandrive